Thursday, January 11, 2007

Ballpark seeks more funding; bigger stadium means more lease money for Lehigh County

With most construction bids in, Lehigh County's minor league baseball stadium is now projected to cost $48.4 million, according to county officials.

At a meeting Wednesday before county commissioners, officials reviewed a plan to cover the 41 percent increase in expenses and the amended lease agreement with team owners.

The price tag of the east Allentown stadium, originally $34.3 million, rose precipitously because of several factors, including an outdated estimate based on a ballpark of smaller scope and escalating construction costs.

The county will receive higher annual lease payments from Craig Stein and Joseph Finley , entrepreneurs who own the IronPigs, the Philadelphia Phillies-affiliated team that will play there. They will pay $1.29 million for about 30 years, which adds up to $38.6 million— $18.3 million more than set forth in the previous agreement, according to Administration Director Tom Muller.

In addition, County Executive Don Cunningham is optimistic that in a couple of weeks the county may receive grants totaling about $1.5 million from the state Department of Community and Economic Development, on top of the $17 million the state has already committed to the project.

''We are working on identifying a pool of resources for this project,'' said Kevin Ortiz, a spokesman for the DCED, but he couldn't comment on a time frame or dollar amount.

Hotel tax revenues constitute another major source of funding. In state legislation approved in June 2005, the county's hotel tax rate went from 3.5 percent to 4 percent, with the funds from the increase slated for the stadium's construction. Officials are planning to use $452,000 in hotel tax revenue this year, plus $1.3 million already collected.

More here.

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